July 6, 2018

Burros on Fort Irwin

Kelsey Bedford
Wildlife Biologist, Redhorse Corporation

Feral donkeys, or “burros”, were first brought to the mainland of North America by the Spanish in the 1500s. Burros were used primarily as pack animals and are still economically important today in undeveloped areas. Burros can be found on public and private lands in California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah andOregon.  When they occur on federal public lands, they are managed under the Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. This Act was put into place to ensure the protection, management, and control of wild horses and burros, the “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West”.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) estimates about 15,000 burros occupy public lands in the United States and more than 4,300 are in California. Today’s population estimates are three times greater than the number of burros on public lands just twenty years ago, which has led to negative interactions with people and natural resources. Native species like big horn sheep and mule deer avoid water and food sources occupied by burros. Further exacerbating problems, burros also damage fragile desert ecosystems by over-grazing and trampling vegetation at springs. Incidents with people increase in the summer when burros look for permanent water sources in communities as natural water sources dry up. Burros acclimate to the presence of people and often blindly wander into busy streets. Since January 2018 there have been seven recorded incidents of vehicle and burro collisions within cantonment.  Three of the seven occurred between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. with the remaining four occurring in late afternoon through evening hours. Use caution and stay alert when driving on Fort Irwin’s roads, especially during dusk and night time hours. If burros are in the road or on the shoulder, reduce your speed as you pass them.

Though donkeys are sometimes kept as pets, burros on public lands and on Fort Irwin are wild animals and should not be approached or given food. Providing food and water to wildlife does more harm than good. Wild animals do not get the nutrients they need from human food and they lose their fear of people. In particular, injured and sick animals should be avoided. Battles between burros can be vicious and may result in broken legs and lacerations from sharp hooves. Approaching an injured burro creates unnecessary stress and may cause the animals to flee the area, delaying aid from a biologist or veterinarian.

The Fort Irwin Directorate of Public Works (DPW) has wildlife biologists on staff who are trained in the handling of wild animals and can assist with burros that are causing a safety hazard or nuisance. When reporting a burro issue, take note of the direction that the burro is traveling and any identifying characteristics. If you have a burro or other wildlife concern, contact the DPW front desk at 760-380-5044 during regular business hours. After hours and on weekends, contact the Military Police at 760-380-4444 and a wildlife biologist will be notified.

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